I am proud to be a member of the MSBA because of its deep and productive relationship with Minnesota’s judiciary.
Since its creation over 130 years ago, MSBA has sought to promote a healthy relationship between the legal community and the members of the bench as one of its primary purposes, and that really has never changed, though how it is pursued naturally has evolved. In fact, a fair amount of that evolution has occurred in recent years.
In 2011, the MSBA Assembly approved a proposal to shift the responsibilities of the board of directors from the Assembly to the Council. While this was controversial, it made far more sense to have governance centralized with the Council, whose 15 members meet roughly ten times per year, than with the Assembly, whose over 125 members meet only four times annually. When this change occurred, the Assembly’s Operations Committee migrated to the Council, leaving a gap in the line-up of Assembly committees. The Assembly wisely endorsed a plan to elevate the MSBA’s previously somewhat obscure Judiciary Committee to fill that spot, recognizing that the Association’s work with the judiciary has always been fairly central to the vision our founders set out in 1883.
At the same time, the Assembly codified within the Association’s bylaws an ambitious list of focus areas for its new committee, giving it the power to:
(1) Authorize petitions to the courts concerning the operation of the courts and the regulation of the practice of law;
(2) Approve requests to take official MSBA positions on proposed rules or rule amendments concerning the operation of the courts and the regulation of the practice of law;
(3) Elect MSBA nominees for positions on boards, committees, and other bodies appointed by the Minnesota Supreme Court;
(4) Promote fair and responsible processes for the filling of judicial vacancies, which may include operating plebiscites among MSBA members concerning the qualifications of incumbents, proposed appointees, or candidates;
(5) Authorize actions by the MSBA upholding and defending the independence of the judiciary;
(6) Submit questions concerning the administration of justice to advisory referendum of the membership pursuant to Article 5;
(7) Encourage the appropriate participation of judicial officers in the functions of the MSBA where consistent with their judicial duties;
(8) Approve requests to take official MSBA positions on matters affecting the judiciary or judicial administration.
The MSBA subsequently has consolidated additional committees with Judiciary, including our Fair Response, Rules of Professional Conduct, and Court Rules & Administration committees, in order to create a powerful institution within the Bar to identify and advance the profession’s interests regarding the judicial branch.
The new-and-improved Judiciary Committee’s first chair was Mike Unger, who will become MSBA president for the 2015-16 Bar year; the committee’s second chair, Tom Fraser, was appointed to the Hennepin County bench in late 2013 by Gov. Mark Dayton; we welcome the new chair, Dan Cragg, to carry on their important work.
But the MSBA’s commitment to including members of the bench in our governing and policy-making structures is not limited to the Judiciary Committee. Prior to her appointment as chief justice, the Hon. Lorie S. Gildea served on the MSBA Council for many years (including during the presidency of the Hon. Leo Brisbois, now a U.S. magistrate judge in Duluth); the Hon. Kathleen Sanberg, formerly of the Minnesota Tax Court and now serving as a U.S. bankruptcy judge, also served on the Council for many years, as did the Hon. Ed Cleary, now chief judge of the Minnesota Court of Appeals. We are delighted to include 4th District Judge Ed Wahl, on the Council currently, and deeply appreciate the contributions of Associate Justice Christopher Dietzen in the Assembly and as part of the committee planning our Day 9 event in June (a group that also includes the Hon. Leonardo Castro of the 2nd District). Another recent 4th District appointee, the Hon. Marta Chou, is a former chair of our Diversity Committee.
Our relationships with the judiciary extend throughout Minnesota. Each year, when the MSBA’s unconventional convention, the “Nine Days in June,” tours the state, the chief judge of each district in which one of the eight events in greater Minnesota occurs is invited to offer an update on developments within that district, and many other judges attend as well. We are grateful for the commitment shown by our appellate judges’ participation in these events; in 2013, for example, Justice David Lillehaug attended and among other things, talked about his experience helping found the MSBA’s Construction Law Section. Our members statewide consistently express appreciation for the opportunity to interact with the local and appellate bench at these events. Later this spring the MSBA expects to cosponsor a reception in Apple Valley promoting bench-bar relationships within the 1st Judicial District.
In the coming months and years, you will hear much about the need for the MSBA to focus on its core mission and its unique strengths to remain relevant in the 21st century. I am convinced that our longstanding relationship to the bench statewide, which no other bar association in Minnesota can match, is one of those strengths that will remain central to who we are as an association.